It is impossible for us to achieve true equity in our society if we do not address both the disparity in access to higher education as well as in graduation rates. For example, a 2016 report put out by the Department of Education, showed that higher education is a key pathway for social mobility in the United States. Both in employment as well as earning potential, college graduates fare much better. At roughly 2.5 percent, the unemployment rate for college graduates is about half of the national average. In addition, college graduates earn almost twice as much as workers who only have a high school diploma. And for minority students that do enroll in college, completion rates for Black and Hispanic students are much lower than for their Asian and White counterparts, with only one in five actually graduating.
While there are still numerous barriers to entering college for many students of color, research has consistently uncovered at least three key factors that are necessary for minority students to succeed once they do get there — faculty diversity and support, peer support and a strong campus service support system. One program that was developed to attract professionals of color into doctoral programs and academia is the PhD project. The PhD Project was originally founded by KPMG over 20 years ago. Bernie Milano, who was responsible for recruiting at KPMG when the program started, said the PhD Project was originally developed due to a frustration of not being able to find students of color in business schools. This seemed to directly correlate with the lack of diversity among faculties. Dr. Jeffrey Robinson, one of the founders and principals at BCT Partners, attributes his decision to pursue a doctoral degree directly to the program. He now teaches undergraduates and MBA students about entrepreneurship and social entrepreneurship at Rutgers Business School (RBS). In addition to producing research, he serves as academic co-founder of Rutgers Business School’s Center for Urban Entrepreneurship and Economic Development. According to Rutgers Business School Dean, Dr. Lei Lei, “The PhD Project has delivered many outstanding professors and impressive PhD students to RBS...and ensures that our world-renowned faculty offers different experiences and perspectives to industry through its research and to students through its instruction.”
In addition to faculty diversity, peer and campus support programs are also incredibly important. When minority students start their academic experience with a strong support system, they report feeling less alienated and higher confidence, and they are more likely to thrive in their new environment both socially and academically. Personal mentoring, well-designed course placement strategies, as well as counseling can create a strong foundation for success especially when they are highly individualized and engage the students in the decision-making process.
Matching students with a curriculum that best matches their skill sets and academic interests can be especially beneficial in increasing graduation rates, but this process can be time-consuming and many universities do not have the bandwidth to undertake this on an individualized basis. However, there are some big data projects that can provide much needed insight. For example, researchers have created a database that measures 33 variables for the online coursework of 640,000 students. The data-mining effort, which was kicked off in 2011 with a $1 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, was led by WCET, the WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies. Data from the study was used as a foundation to create The Predictive Analytics Reporting (PAR) Framework which is a non-profit provider of analytics as a service. The Predictive Analytics Reporting (PAR) Framework applies descriptive, inferential, and predictive analytical data mining techniques to better gauge risks and implement interventions that remove barriers to student success.
While none of these solutions are quick fixes for narrowing the gaps in educational equity, they are being used successfully to make progress towards that goal. These methods now need to be utilized more aggressively across all of our higher educational institutions. If we want our society to offer opportunities for more than just the privileged few, it is imperative that we set goals for increasing the graduation rate for minorities. It is not only the right thing to do, but it is also the smart thing to do. With the U.S. population becoming much more diverse, minorities will soon become the majority. We cannot continue to compete in a global economy if only a small percentage of our population has the opportunity to take advantage of higher education.